A PUP councillor has condemned the “neo-Nazi element” behind a protest against settling Syrian refugees in Coleraine.
The protest, led by the self-described former leader of the National Front in Northern Ireland Mark Brown, happened at the Causeway Coast and Glens council offices at Cloonavin in Coleraine last night.
Mr Brown told media outside the council office that the protest was a result of “legitimate concern and worry” over “the notion to resettle third-world refugees from Syria.”
Mr Brown, who was recently convicted of what a judge described as a “vile” racially motivated assault against a taxi-driver, continued: “There has been no transparency, no outline, nothing whatsoever to endeavour, encourage or help anybody within the locality of Coleraine itself.”
PUP councillor Russell Watton said that while there are “genuine concerns” in the area about housing refugees with over 1,200 people on waiting lists for social housing in Coleraine, he condemned the organisers of the protest as “neo-Nazis”.
“I would have nothing whatsoever to do with the organisers but some of the young boys there where nothing more than young, misguided loyalists. I did say to some of them to go down into the town, to the diamond, to look at the war memorial and see the number of men from this town who fought against fascism and Nazism.
“But there is a serious neo-Nazi element. Out-and-out Nazis and I would have nothing to do with them.”
Mr Watton, however, acknowledged concern in the area about housing.
He continued: “There is serious concern about housing refugees in Coleraine when there are 1,253 people on waiting lists for Housing Executive houses already.
“I won’t be supporting refugees getting houses before locals. When I am working with people every day who can’t get homes then how can I support the Housing Executive giving houses to people ahead of locals?”
The chief executive of the Causeway Coast and Glens council spoke with the protesters outside the building, before they made their way inside to sit in the public gallery as the monthly meeting took place.
They were then asked to leave, along with press and media, as councillors discussed confidential business.
The protest passed without incident.
Sinn Fein East Londonderry MLA Caoimhe Archibald had said, when news that some Syrian families would be settled in the area, that there is a “moral and political responsibility to extend the hand of friendship.”
She described the refugee crisis as “the worst humanitarian crisis of this century”.
Ms Archibald continued: “Thousands of individuals and families have fled from war, conflict, persecution and poverty and sadly many have lost their lives as they try to make their way to safety.
“It is important the care we offer extends beyond simply opening the door for these people.
“Sinn Féin has been to the fore in supporting the rights of refugees and working to ensure proper structures are in place to welcome them into our community.”
The Coleraine protest follows a series of incidents in the Republic of Ireland in recent months over the settlement of asylum seekers.
There were arson attacks at the Caiseal Mara Hotel in Moville, Co Donegal which had been due to accommodate asylum seekers, and the Shannon Key West hotel in Rooskey on the border between Co Leitrim and Co Roscommon which had also been earmarked to accommodate asylum seekers.